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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Nino Haratischwili

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To purchase Juja

Title: Juja
Author: Nino Haratischwili
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010
Length: 298 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Juja - Deutschland
  • Juja has not been translated into English yet

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Our Assessment:

B : ambitious mix of personal and public stories, quite well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Die Zeit . 3/12/2010 Inge Kutter

  From the Reviews:
  • "Natürlich geht es darin irgendwie um einsame Frauen, aber vor allem geht es um die große Kraft der Literatur. Es geht darum, was sie mit denen macht, die sie lesen: Wie sie ihnen Halt gibt, sie mitreißt, ihr Leben verändert. Es geht darum, was sie mit denen macht, die sie erschaffen: Wie sie sie erfüllt, sie auszehrt und in ihre Wirklichkeit eingreift." - Inge Kutter, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Juja is loosely based on the real-life case of Danielle Sarréra, a French author who was a suicide in 1949, at the age of seventeen, and whose writings were only discovered and first published in the mid-1970s; in fact, the works of 'Danielle Sarréra' were those of Frédérick Tristan (the 1983 prix Goncourt winner), and she a figure --like her work -- entirely of his invention. Juja proposes a similar author, named Jeanne Saré, also a suicide at age seventeen, and works -- a single volume in this case, called Die Eiszeit, Buch 1 (Ice Age, Vol. 1 in English translation -- one of the characters buys a copy), written in 1953 and then published by an underground publisher who discovered the texts some fifteen or twenty years later.
       The work is notorious for having led fourteen young women to follow the author's example and commit suicide in the six years following its publication. After multiple re-printings, the book has been allowed to fade from memory -- but the fallout lingers, not least in used copies that readers still stumble across.
       Juja is presented in short chapters, some of which consist of excerpts from Saré's work, while others describe various characters whose lives are somehow affected by it over the decades. There is the young student, Jan, who convinces an academic, Laura, to join him in searching for the truth about Saré and her work in 2004. There is Patrice Duchamp, the young writer just starting out in 1967 - and the original publisher of Ice Age --, and the young woman he becomes involved with, Marie Bessonville. And there are several women who read the text and are consumed by it -- one copies the entire text, for example; another, whose life has been marked by the most horrible domestic tragedy, feels like she's reading her own thoughts when she stumbles across the book.
       When Laura and Jan travel to Paris and investigate they discover that there isn't any record of any Saré, or any suicide matching her description in the relevant period. Is her work entirely the invention of Patrice ? It would seem so -- but it's not entirely clear-cut. And there is the mysterious word: 'Distraction' scratched into a wall, supposedly by a young Saré-like woman, sometime around the time she would have lived -- a word that doesn't appear in Ice Age but becomes totemic for some of its readers.
       Haratischwili's two-part book moves back and forth in time and between the many characters involved, in a succession of short chapters switching between various perspectives and eras. The first part largely situates the characters and their original relationships to the text; in the second part the pieces begin to fall into place, as Haratischwili almost immediately makes clear that there was no Saré -- at least not in the way she was popularly conceived of (a teenage writer and suicide). There is increasing overlap among the characters, previously separated across the decades in time, as Laura, in 2004, comes to meet Patrice and some of the others.
       It makes for an interesting exercise in exploring the power of story (and myth), and Haratischwili constructs an engaging structure of connections and echoes among her characters and stories. It doesn't all work, but the individual stories are well-told and the overlaps quite well done. She's particularly good at building character across the course of the novel -- through the various interactions they have with each other -- only occasionally straining too hard. Jan, who, it turns out, has his own reasons for being so obsessive about the book, is perhaps the most problematic figure, but even with regards to him Haratischwili does a lot well.
       Juja can have the feel of a first novel, a young writer exploring writing-boundaries -- and playing with the question of the power of the text -- but even if so, it shows a promising talent at work. With its many threads -- some left long-dangling -- the novel can feel confusing and demanding, but it offers enough rewards even at the episode-by-episode level, and makes for a fairly satisfying whole.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 September 2014

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Juja: Reviews: Other books by Nino Haratischwili under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German-writing Nino Haratischwili was born in Georgia in 1983.

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